WCIA marked St David’s Day with a public event on ‘Wales for Peace in Ukraine‘, attended by over 150 participants, following this last week’s shocking invasion by Russian military forces under Vladimir Putin. The event, chaired by Susie Ventris-Field, was organised in partnership between WCIA, Academi Heddwch, Aberystwyth and Cardiff Metropolitan Universities, with a speaker live from Ukraine and inputs also from Russian Anti-War Activists.
Opening the event, Academi Heddwch Chair and poet laureate Mererid Hopwood said: “for us in Wales, today is St. David’s Day. Every child all over the country today – dressed in their hats, leeks and daffodils – recites Dewi’s words: “be joyful, keep faith, and do the little things.” Back 1,500 years ago, St David looked at everyone in the world as brother and a sister – and asked the ‘lords’ to do so as well. And here today, we look at our friends in Ukraine, and in Russia, as brother and sisters. And that is why we have come together to do this small thing, of coming together, to see what practically we can do. One of the aims of Academi Heddwch Cymru is to bring the word ‘Peace’ back to people’s tongues, not only as the goal, but as the way too. Peace cannot be just the aim: it must also be the way to that aim.”
Dr Jenny Mathers, Wales’ leading expert on Russian and Ukrainian relations at Aberystwyth University’s department of International Politics (co-founded in the early 1920s alongside WCIA’s predecessor, the Welsh League of Nations Union – for which 2022 marks the WLNU’s centenary), opened with an extensive but concise overview of the rapidly developing international situation, impacts on the people of Ukraine and Russia, Vladimir Putin’s culpability for the invasion, and the reaction of the United Nations and global community with unprecedented sanctions and support. Jenny highlighted the currently quite fresh revelations (yesterday) that many ‘soldiers’ deployed by Putin to Ukraine appear to be teenage conscripts, unprepared for war and often unaware they were even in Ukraine, which seems likely to send shockwaves through Russian Society. Jenny Mathers observed that, “outside of Putin’s inner circle, ordinary people are aghast at the Russian State’s decision to invade Ukraine, and are taking to the streets to protest – risking imprisonment to shout three simple but powerful words – No to War.”
Professor Cara Aitchison, Vice Chancellor of Cardiff Metropolitan University, opened her contribution with poignant words from the late Rev Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you take the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has his foot on the tail of a mouse, the mouse will not appreciate your ‘neutrality’.” Cara offered ’10 practical actions for supporting Peace in Ukraine’ that educational institutions, educators and students could promote (reproduced at the bottom of this article); and in illustration, highlighted how Universities of Sanctuary can provide a vital lifeline to students and academics fleeing from persecution and the horrors of war. This has been demonstrated in Cardiff Metropolitan which began to offer sanctuary scholarships in 2017 following Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ in the US, and has since welcomed citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. “As a progressive nation, Wales has a role to play in relation to Ukraine, not just at this moment in time, but in the future too.”
We were privileged to be hear the Ukrainian voice from ex-WCIA volunteer Viktoriia Grivina, (through EVS, European Voluntary Service) – now studying in St Andrews, Scotland – who spoke movingly of her family and friends experience ‘on the ground’. “When I left Ukraine a couple of months ago to start my PhD in St Andrews, my worst fear was that my parents would catch covid – I kept reminding them to get their booster jabs. Now my father risks being shot and killed going to the chemist just to get essential medicine for his neighbour.” She appealed for all attendees to lobby politicians and the global community to take strong and fast action to block further invasions and aggression, highlighting the need to close skies over Ukraine, block all Russian access to the SWIFT financial system, and to boycott energy and business links until Putin withdraws his troops.
WCIA’s Heritage Advisor Craig Owen also shared a message sent from Russian youth activists, conveying the strength of feeling against the war: “These past few days have been terrifying; for my family and friends, we’re very angry, scared and devastated. Our president, who we did not choose, started a war against our peaceful neighbour, where many of our friends and relatives live. Realising that this war is being paid by our tax money; that the lives of young boys are being sent to their deaths just because they didn’t have enough money to get out of military service; that we may never even know their names, how many of them may die, their families may never have a chance to say goodbye – is terrifying. And ‘brave’ Russian people are getting detained by police for just saying two simple words – no war. It is getting worse with each day. It feels like they (Putin’s regime) stole both our future and our past from us.”
Many participants and contributors raised the value of enabling parents, teachers and schools to talk openly with children about the war in Ukraine, for which WCIA has responded by starting a ‘Youth and Children’s Resources page‘ on Wales for Peace in Ukraine.
The event closed with a minute’s silence for the people of Ukraine, during which many participants displayed a ‘Sunflower’ emoji on their screen as a mark of solidarity: the national flower of Ukraine, on the national day of Wales.
Wales and Ukraine: A History of Solidarity
Wales has a long history of solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
The city of Donetsk itself was originally called Hugheskova, founded in 1870 by Merthyr ironmaster John Hughes with 100 Welsh migrant workers, who collectively pioneered Russian metallurgy. Home today to 1 million people, it is now at the heart of the conflict following Russia’s recognition and annexation of the People’s Republic of Donetsk.
In 1933, Welsh journalist Gareth Jones exposed the Holodomor – Stalin’s Ukrainian famine, in which 7-10 million Ukrainians died at the hands of the Russian State, recognised as genocide by the UN in 2006. Gareth Jones was assassinated in 1935 in China, the day before his 30th birthday; but his story and its impact in giving voice to the Ukrainian people has been told in Agnieska Holland’s 2020 film ‘Mr Jones‘ – inspired by his niece’s Margaret Siriol Colley’s research, and recently commemorated in Barry in Nov 2021.
The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth hold Gareth Jones’ Archives, whilst the Temple of Peace is proud to hold his personal collection of books in the Temple Library – donated by Gareth’s parents, Ann and Edgar Jones. Ann had lived in Ukraine as tutor to the family of John Hughes (above); whilst his father Edgar was hugely involved in Wales’ Peace movement through the Welsh League of Nations Union, and was the first Warden of Wales’ Temple of Peace throughout World War Two.
In 1986, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Northern Ukraine prompted an outpouring of public support Wales-wide, with charities and solidarity groups – including many supported by CND Cymru – some of which continued through initiatives such as Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline.
In recent years, many international volunteers have exchanged between Wales, Ukraine and Russia through UNA Exchange, which continues today through WCIA’s International Volunteering programme.
Over recent days, Welsh Senedd members Mick Antoniw and Adam Price travelled to Kyiv in a private capacity, to witness firsthand the situation on the ground in an ‘Anti-War Visit‘. Mick Antoniw , MS for Pontypridd – who has family in Ukraine – commented:
“(As governments and) assemblies started sending all their people out, Ukrainians have felt they were being abandoned. They have a recognition of how it is to be abandoned when international issues arise. They’re able to tell us what is happening, how they’re feeling… and how important it is that people actually support and recognise the situation here. As one person just said earlier ‘we are potentially on the brink of a Third World War – it’s just so good that you are here so we can talk and tell you about what is happening in this country’.”
On their return to the UK, Mick Antoniw and Adam Price responded to the invasion of Ukraine calling for all in the UK to #StandwithUkraine.
Observers are drawing obvious parallels between the Russian treatment of Ukraine in the 1930s, and today; as well as echoes of the 1936 Spanish Civil War, when many thousands Wales and world-wide fought the rise of fascism through the International Brigades. How can we learn from the past, to draw on lessons for today and future generations?
Wales’ Peace Heritage
Wales has a long and proud history of internationalism, which WCIA has been documenting through our Peace Heritage work. Of particular interest on St David’s Day, WCIA started life as the Welsh League of Nations Union (WLNU) – 100 years ago this May – for whom the primary source of funding for their monumental peace campaigns of the 1920s and 1930s, was ‘Daffodil Days for Peace’ – the story of which was recently researched by WCIA volunteer Rob Laker.
Friends of Wales’ Temple of Peace
WCIA’s original plan for St David’s Day was to launch the new network ‘Friends of the Temple of Peace’, which will connect organisations and community groups with an interest in the Temple and Wales’ National Garden of Peace. We have launched a ‘Friends of the Temple’ homepage today, and an alternative launch event will be organised over coming weeks.
10 Actions for Welsh Education: Prof Cara Aitchison
1) Universities and educators should provide emotional and financial support to Ukrainian students in the UK – and recognise that our student support and wellbeing services may be required by students of other nationalities too. A war in Europe, on top of a global pandemic, will cause stress and strain to all our students and young people.
2) Provide support to academic institutions in Ukraine that we currently collaborate with in research, or partner with for student mobility programmes. To rebuild Ukraine we should engage in as many joint projects as possible. We have a partnership with the National Academy of Art in Lviv and we will do all we can to support our colleagues there.
3) Extend opportunities for students to study in the UK via institutional scholarships (eg CARA Fellowships), and lobby Welsh Government to establish additional student bursaries to supplement those funded by universities.
4) Develop international understanding and inter-cultural competence through all levels of education including the new Curriculum for Wales and at our universities though initiatives such as the Cardiff Met EDGE – Ethical, Digital, Global and Entrepreneurial education.
5) Strengthen cultural diplomacy through education by linking, especially with the British Council Cymru, and by continuing to develop sporting links. Our Cardiff Met Women’s Football Club played in Kharkiv in 2018, when they got through to the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League – and we must never underestimate the role of sport in peace building.
6) Lobby UK Government to relax visa regulations that are out of step with the rest of Europe.
7) Donate money to organisations working directly to support refugees.
8) When the time is right, encourage our students to visit Ukraine and make use of schemes such as the new Welsh Government-funded Taith Wales – the new student exchange programme, designed to take Wales to the world and bring the world to Wales.
9) Influence, lobby those who can influence and withdraw your support and finance to bring influence.
10) Speak up and out – As the late Desmond Tutu said, ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality’.